Hoping against hope, [Abraham] believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.
One of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, wrote that:
"Hope" is the thing with feathers— That perches in the soul— And sings the tune without the words— And never stops—at all—
Hope is strong, hope is irrepressible, hope is relentless, hope is undeniable.
In his latest book, Ladder to the Light, The Rev. Steven Charleston, a member of the Choctaw Nation, and an Episcopal Bishop, writes:
In 1831, the world came to an end for my family – and for all the families that were part of the Choctaw Nation. That year, we were forced off our ancestral homeland and made to walk on a death march we called the ‘Trail of Tears. Thousands of our people died. We lost our homes, our way of life, even our graveyards. We lost everything.
Everything, that is, except the one thing they could not take from us: hope. Hope kept us going, kept us climbing toward the light, even though the world seemed to be filled with nothing but darkness.Charleston, Steven. Ladder to the Light, (Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021) p. 57-58
A year ago about this time, I was entering the final six months of my call as bishop and, quite honestly, looking forward to retirement. I had just returned from the Spring Conference of Bishops gathering in Chicago when the surge in Coronavirus cases set off a chain of events that would take us in unpredictable directions.
Our Governor issued the first Stay at Home order around the middle of March. Most of us thought this would be over in a couple of months. We felt we could endure. But March gave way to April, April to May, and as the months wore on, things began looking pretty bleak.
The public health challenge that lay ahead put the country’s leaders at odds with each other. The President and several state governors were in disagreement on how to proceed, or what would take priority. Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise along with the death count. Hospitals were filled beyond capacity. Healthcare workers were overwhelmed. We could do little but watch in utter helplessness.
On a congregational level, the forced suspension of in-person worship sparked a surge of disagreements between pastors and church members that had me feeling more like a referee than a bishop. We were groping in the dark for answers. I had no extraordinary wisdom to offer our church leaders, which increased my frustration to no end.
These thoughts all crossed my mind this morning as I read from Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians.
Abraham hoped against hope, Paul writes, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” [Rom. 4:20-21]
I recently received my second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination. COVID-19 has brought us face to face with the realization of how precious life is to us. But as surely as the pandemic is a source of grief, it also reveals to us the source of our hope: The God who keeps promises.
One of the greatest sources of hope for me over the past year has been my reliance on Holy Scripture. I can honestly say that I’ve never depended more on God’s Word than I have during these months of pandemic. I confess that my spiritual practices could have been described as haphazard, until faced with the crisis of having to lead people through something none of us had ever experienced in our lifetime. This is what led me to commit to the task of writing these daily reflections during Lent. I don’t know how I’ll feel after Easter, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Unlike the journey of Lent, we have seen that this journey of pandemic will not end in 40 days. But we serve a God who provides for our needs, even during times of great difficulty. We believe in a God who is never far from us, even when the way seems uncertain.
Like Abraham, God’s ultimate gift to us is a faith in a God who loves, a God who continues to care throughout the difficulties of this world, a God who calls us to bear the word of hope that there is more to life than what we see.
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